SD Supercomputer Center Takes Lead in Commercializing Analytics

A broad initiative in predictive analytics that began at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) earlier this year is taking another step today, with a two-day “boot camp” in data mining for local companies.

The event is intended to help San Diego companies that specialize in healthcare, drug development, genomics, telecommunications, and other technologies learn effective strategies for using predictive analytics. “This is our first boot camp specifically designed for industry,” says Natasha Balac, a UC San Diego computer scientist, who was named in May as director of the supercomputer center’s new Predictive Analytics Center of Excellence (PACE).

The formation of PACE, along with a series of similar “boot camps” for industry, is part of Balac’s broader mission, which she says is designed to promote, educate, and innovate in predictive analytics. The next workshop already is scheduled for Feb. 7-8.

Natasha Balac

While there are a lot of discussions around using “big data,” Balac says “there is a humongous shortage of people who can do predictive analytics,” especially in industry. As we’ve previously reported, San Diego has a mini-cluster of analytics companies and Balac’s center of excellence was established with the idea of solidifying and expanding the industry here.

The formation of PACE came within months after the supercomputer center turned on Gordon, a $20 million supercomputer that employs massive amounts (320 terabytes) of flash-based memory. Gordon was specifically designed for working with large data sets, and has the ability to hold 100,000 entire human genomes in its flash memory system. “We couldn’t name it ‘Flash Gordon,’ which is what we wanted to do,” Balac quipped.

Balac, a data applications manager who specializes in interdisciplinary collaborations and community-shared data, says San Diego’s supercomputer center “always has been a leader in big data” as opposed to computational speed. She sees a host of opportunities for collaborations in predictive analytics among San Diego companies that specialize in genetic and molecular diagnostics, personalized medicine, healthcare, drug development, telecommunications, and wireless health.

One of Gordon’s biggest users, she said, is Eric Topol, the prominent cardiologist and researcher who is the chief academic officer for Scripps Health, professor of Translational Genomics at The Scripps Research Institute, and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. It might be just a Monty Python coincidence, but in the 1980 film “Flash Gordon,” Ming the Merciless was played by the actor Topol (of Fiddler on the Roof fame).

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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